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The Twilight Zone's Time Enough at Last: Burgess Meredith Guest Stars

The Twilight Zone's Time Enough at Last stars Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis, a timid bank clerk with a love for books who survives a nuclear holocaust, only to be denied his one true passion.

Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (1959-64) reigned supreme during the Golden Age of Television. Burgess Meredith guest stars as bookworm Henry Bemis in the famous 1959 TZ episode "Time Enough at Last."

The Twilight Zone's Time Enough at Last: Cast & Credits

"Time Enough at Last," based on a short story by Lyn Venable, was written for the small screen by series creator Rod Serling. Directing the action was John Brahm. Venable's story had first appeared in the January 1953 issue of If: Worlds of Science Fiction, later surfacing as an ebook in 2005 with narration by Bill Mills. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:

  • Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith)
  • Mr. Carsville (Vaughn Taylor)
  • Helen Bemis (Jacqueline deWit)
  • Mrs. Chester (Lela Bliss)

Burgess Meredith as bookworm Henry Bemis with stopped clock at the devastated public library - CBS-TV

Time Enough at Last: Episode Synopsis

Henry Bemis is a myopic bank clerk whose one passion in life is books. Henry's wife Helen doesn't share his passion, nor does Henry's ill-humored boss Mr. Carsville. While perusing Charles Dickens' David Copperfield at his teller's window, Bemis shortchanges Mrs. Chester, making for an unsatisfied customer.

While taking his lunch in the bank vault one afternoon in order to garner some privacy and catch up on his reading, Bemis spies an ominous headline in The Daily Chronicle: "H-BOMB CAPABLE OF TOTAL DESTRUCTION." Suddenly, a mammoth explosion takes place, shaking the building to its core and knocking Bemis unconscious. When he finally emerges from the vault, Bemis discovers that a nuclear explosion has taken place. He aimlessly wanders the devastated city, coming to the conclusion that nearly everyone on Earth is dead.

A lonely, discouraged Bemis traverses the city. When his despair finally becomes too much, Bemis grabs a revolver and places it to his head, ready to pull the trigger and end his life. But in the near distance is a public library, loaded with stacks of books, including many of the classics. The library proves to be Bemis' salvation, for he now believes that he has "time enough at last" to pursue his uninterrupted reading. 

Time Enough at Last: Air Date & Network Competition

"Time Enough at Last" first hit the airwaves over CBS on Friday night, November 20, 1959, in the 10-10:30 (ET) time slot. Network competition was The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor (ABC) and The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports (NBC). 

Time Enough at Last: Analysis & Review

"Time Enough at Last" hails from The Twilight Zone's first season and is episode #8 in the anthology series. One of the first TZ episodes written for the show, "Time Enough at Last" is a tribute to bookworms and lovers of the printed word. 

Burgess Meredith (1907-1997) excels in the role of the mousy, bespectacled Henry Bemis, the timid bank clerk whose wish for more time to adequately pursue his reading perversely comes true in the form of a nuclear holocaust. Shielded by the blast and deadly radiation while ensconced in the reinforced vault, the shaken Bemis emerges from his shelter only to discover that everyone is dead. Bemis eventually finds his own version of paradise in the rubble – a destroyed city public library out of which pour forth a virtual treasure trove of books.

Sitting on the library steps, Bemis marvels at the titles, barely containing his excitement in cracking open his first book. But fate quickly deals the hapless Bemis a cruel blow, as his thick glasses fall to the ground and shatter, leaving him nearly blind and unable to read. In one of The Twilight Zone's most famous lines the defeated Bemis calls out, "That's not fair. That's not fair at all. There was time now. There was all the time I needed! That's not fair!" 

One can readily identify with the character of Henry Bemis. With his useless glasses now shattered into pieces and his precious books scattered about by his side, Bemis is much like the survivor on a life raft, surrounded by an ocean of salt water which he cannot drink. Of course in a real nuclear holocaust the point would be moot, for lingering fallout would make quick work of gentle reader Bemis, dealing him a horrible death from radiation sickness. 

Burgess Meredith appeared in a total of four episodes of the original The Twilight Zone. He also went on to serve as narrator for the ill-fated Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), which claimed the lives of Vic Morrow and two child actors. Once again, producers borrowed sets from a classic science fiction movie for their show. The library steps seen in the episode are the same ones used in The Time Machine (1960) starring Rod Taylor. 

Top Image 

  • Burgess Meredith amidst the rubble in The Twilight Zone's "Time Enough at Last" - CBS-TV

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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Comments (3)

One of my verymost favorites.

Thank you dear illiam. Nice article. Voted. Thanks for friendship and support.

This was without a doubt my favorite episode. Loved the Twilight Zone and enjoyed your article.